Xela – Land of Spanish Schools but no hot showers

We have been in Xela for a little over two weeks now and it has been rather interesting to meet and chat with the Guatemalans. They are a polite, friendly and hard-working people who are more than ready to explain their history or discuss politics if you ask. One thing that I have noticed in particular is that they have time for you, in fact, they will make time for you, and we found that they really do want to help you … no strings attached. If you need directions, a recommendation or anything else they are more than willing to help you out (which really helps since the highways don’t have signs).

We arrived late last Sunday night to our Spanish school and were dropped off at our homestay house. It would be a bit of an understatement to say we were a bit surprised at our new surroundings. It has made me appreciate how lucky we are at home and I suppose that as you get older (Ack!) your standards change a bit. What we were able to handle at 21 has changed a little bit. Things that seem to be completely standard in Xela are a lack of hot water and power outages at all times of the week. Somehow (we really cannot figure it out) water is heated in the shower in this crazy contraption:

All things considered I do think Guatemala is on its way to becoming a stable nation. After a horrible civil war from 1960 – 1996, where over 200, 000 Guatemalans were killed, a million left homeless and thousands just disappeared, Guatemalans are trying very hard to change the world’s view about themselves and their nation. They are making the effort to move away from the violence, which swallowed up the country for much too long. My Spanish teacher told me yesterday that at the age of 10 he had watched two televised executions, one by firing squad and the other by lethal injection. Stunned I asked him if he thought that seeing this type of violence as a child had any long term affects, he shrugged and replied, “Yes, but everyone would tune in to see them.” This only solidified that fact that those of us in the western world cannot really understand the atrocities these people, and many others, have been exposed to in the past century.

All of this aside, things do seem to be looking up here. Education and literacy are extremely important and many young people are expecting to attend university to find work. The indigenous people are much more integrated into society that those of Mexico and there are serious discrimination laws in effect. Should you ask anyone in Guatemala what group they belong to the only response you will get is,” Soy Guatemalteco.” (I am Guatemalan).

Of course, there are still lots of violent activities and child kidnapping seems to be huge issue here (we watched an anti violence and kidnapping protest in the main square). And everyone, both tourist, ex-pat and national alike will tell you to avoid Guatemala City. From what we have heard it sounds extremely dangerous.
On the lighter side we visited Fuentes Georginas, beautiful hot springs, about 35 minutes outside of Xela. After a very cold week both inside the classroom and at our home stay we were overjoyed to jump into the scalding waters and warm up. Interestingly enough most of the visitors to the springs were cold-looking tourists.

Tasty rum and cheap!

We have a couple more weeks of one-on-one Spanish at ICA for 5 hours a day. And when we are not conjugating verbs we are planning to hunt down San Simon, a famous Mayan hero, check out a finca (coffee plantation) and take a trip to the beautiful Lago Atitlan.

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  1. Krista & Ben’s avatar

    It’s nice to hear that finally there are other “old people” who can’t seem to handle what we once could as 21 year olds! You are not alone!

  2. kristen’s avatar

    Although I was only in Guatemala for a few days, one thing I noticed and appreciated was the kindness of “Guatemaltecos”. That has always remained as my favourite part of the country (and the green sauce a this one taco stand…).

    (I’m a friend of Lara’s and have really enjoyed reading about your adventures. My husband and I have talked about how cool it would be to start in Vancouver and drive all the way to the tip of South America. While our, or at least his, Spanish is more advanced than yours, your guts far outweigh ours so far! It terrifies me to think about a trip of that scale.)

  3. Austin’s avatar

    Woo! Coffee!
    I’m looking forward to it. Are you going to get a chance to learn how to cook anything while you’re there?

  4. kels’s avatar

    Krista and Ben – Glad we could help out by bringing in a few more oldies ;)

    Kristen – Any friend of Lara’s is a friend of ours…we really appreciate you stopping by. And you should do this trip! It is so great and very do-able…let me know if we can give you any more info about driving the pan-american!

    Austin – want to hear something kind of sad all the ‘good’ coffee gets exported so the Guatemaltecos drink instant coffee! Crazy, isn’t it…As for cooking Tom has already got one salsa recipe under his belt and I think there might be more….

  5. Bon Bon’s avatar

    Her’s something to get you guys in the holiday spirit:

    Mexican Eggnog:

    Rich, thick, and sweet, this cinnamon-and-vanilla-flavored milk liqueur is a delicious alternative to store-bought eggnog during the holidays. When reducing the milk, use the tallest pot you have on hand to prevent the milk from accidentally boiling over.

    4 cups milk
    3?4 cup sugar
    1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela
    6 egg yolks
    2?3 cup light or golden rum
    1 tsp. vanilla extract, preferably Mexican

    1. In a tall 4-qt. nonreactive pot, stir together milk, sugar, and cinnamon. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Do not stir the milk, but use a spoon to skim off and discard any skin that forms on the surface of the liquid. Boil until the mixture is reduced to about 2 3?4 cups, 25–30 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon.

    2. Whisk egg yolks in a medium metal bowl. While whisking yolks constantly, slowly drizzle in the hot milk mixture. Set the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon or until it reaches 175° on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and let cool, stirring frequently. Whisk in the rum and vanilla.

    3. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a 1-qt. jar or bottle. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight to allow flavors to meld. Serve chilled.

    Stick a cinnamon stick in it and call it Christmas!

  6. Bon Bon’s avatar

    P.S. Add some kahlua too…Feliz Navidad *hic*

  7. tomandkels’s avatar

    Thanks Bonnie! We cannot wait to try this out…with the Kahlua of course!

  8. tom’s avatar

    Hey Bon – Kels got a great mango salsa recipe from Mazatlan I’ll see if we can dig it out and post it … simple and delicious!